Melanie Verwoerd

A postponed conference, a new party: what does the future hold?

2017-07-05 08:23
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela joins hands with President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, in a show of unity at the opening of the party’s National Policy Conference on Friday. Photo: leon sadiki

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela joins hands with President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, in a show of unity at the opening of the party’s National Policy Conference on Friday. Photo: leon sadiki

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As I suspected, the ANC policy conference was mostly an internal talk shop and an opportunity for navel gazing for branch members. With no decisions being taken, very little of real substance came out of it and nothing changed.

It was largely another distraction from what really matters. The real issue remains who will gain control of the ANC as we head towards the electoral conference at the end of year, if it is not postponed (more about that later).

Despite the ANC leadership’s banning all leadership discussions and attempting to project the image of a united organisation, it is clear that the factions are as entrenched as ever.

You only had to listen to the premiers of different provinces, watch the clandestinely filmed “sing-offs” between the pro- and anti-Zuma provinces or follow the dramas surrounding the debates on land and “white monopoly capital” to know that the internal divides are still there, if not growing.

So where does that leave us in terms of the leadership race? Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign has without any doubt picked up speed. He is getting good media coverage from most of the media (Gupta propaganda outlets excluded) and both Cosatu and the SACP have thrown their weight behind him.

This, together with very little visibility from the Dlamini-Zuma campaign, is leading many people to feel upbeat about the possibility of a Ramaphosa presidency.

But that might be seriously premature. Firstly, the media (again Gupta channels aside) love Ramaphosa. He speaks well, is accessible and gives great soundbytes while he is, with increasing frequency, out and about. But we should be very careful to take that as a true reflection of progress made by his campaign inside the ANC.

Secondly, the alliance partners have no vote at the ANC electoral conference. The closest they get to a vote on the matter is if an ANC delegate also happens to be a member of the SACP or Cosatu, and even then they will still be bound by ANC provincial mandates.

So what should we really be paying attention to in the upcoming weeks and months? As I stated in a previous column there are three important factors: 1) the composition of the delegates to the electoral conference; 2) who stands for the position of ANC president and thus to what extent the votes are split; and 3) whether the ANC can get rid of the problematic practices of past conferences, such as the buying of votes.

In this regard it would go a long way if the ANC were to ban or remove all cellphones at the ballot box, in order to prevent the taking of selfies to prove that individuals have voted for particular names to ensure the promised payment.

Of course there are a few names being mentioned at the moment as possible candidates, but I think we can safely assume that the big battle will be between Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma.

And so this leaves us with what can become the deciding factor in South Africa’s future: the breakdown of the different provincial delegations. And therein lies a big problem.

From what I have been told, KZN claims to currently have between 500 000 and 600 000 members. This is almost double what they had at the Mangaung conference, which was in turn three times the membership number from the Polokwane conference. Given that this is not at all in line with the overall growth/decline of ANC membership numbers people are already shouting foul.

We know that KZN largely holds the key to who wins. Assuming Dlamini-Zuma gets the support of the three premier league provinces, Ramaphosa (should he get the support of all the other provinces) still needs to gain significant support from KZN in order to stand a chance of winning.

There are deep divisions in KZN, but I am willing to bet good money that the significant membership increases are not in the branches that support Ramaphosa. Apparently similar increases have occurred in Mpumalanga (which is a Dlamini-Zuma ally).

There is therefore talk amongst ANC members that the Zuma faction will “steal the election” at the end of the year. Whether this is true or not, it is clear that unless the ANC is able to deal with these membership issues, the Ramaphosa-bid is in deep trouble.

Which brings me to a worrying scenario which is increasingly being mentioned by ANC members. They argue that if it becomes clear that Ramaphosa is gaining significant support and might claim victory, the Zuma camp might create conditions which would necessitate the postponement of the electoral conference.

Of course it can’t be postponed indefinitely, but they could do so until they are ensured of victory. The dispute around membership figures is cited as a likely reason for a postponement or even worse, if there were an outbreak of violence amongst ANC members.

Perhaps because of these fears there are now frequent mentions of a compromise slate or list. I believe this would only become a reality if the two candidates were still racing head-to-head much nearer to the end-of-year finish line. I can’t see the Zuma camp agreeing to a compromise if they are convinced of victory. Of course the big question remains who would be willing to become no 2 in that scenario.

Although a lot can still happen over the next six months, for now the odds seem pretty low for Ramaphosa. So what will happen if the Zuma camp claims an outright victory?

I believe that we could, in that instance, see a significant break away from the ANC. Of course this will depend on the willingness of senior ANC figures to leave the party of their birth. Also in order to prevent an early death so common of new parties, it will be essential that the alliance partners break away and either stand on their own during the next general election or join the new party.

I will write more about this in future, but although this is an exciting possibility in the otherwise depressing political landscape, it will also come at a price. Not least that all the “good” people will be gone from the ANC, giving the Zuma faction free reign until the next general elections and – depending on the outcome, possibly longer.

If such a new party made a big electoral impact (which is hard to do in 18 months), it is also doubtful that the outcome would be accepted by those left in the ANC and we could possibly see large scale violence.

For the future stability of the country the best option would therefore be for the ANC to truly self-correct over the next few months. But after the last few days, I am not very hopeful. 

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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